Floating City by Sudhir Venkatesh – review

Floating-CityCraig Taylor on a deeply researched, revealing study of New York’s underworld – Hustlers, Strivers, Dealers, Call Girls in The Guardian

The first thing readers should know is that Sudhir Venkatesh is a sociologist. This is made clear in the title of his previous book: Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Crosses the Line. Like the acclaimed writer Katherine Boo, Venkatesh is interested in deep research, in spending years with subjects and piecing together a detailed portrait. Unlike Boo, Venkatesh is present in his books. He has crossed the line and entered the scene. The pronoun “I” is the first word of both Gang Leader for a Day and his new book, Floating City.

As explanation, he states that the book is a memoir of his experiences while gathering academic material. It’s just “not appropriate for mainstream academic social science publications”. The formal research findings have appeared elsewhere. What’s left for the rest of us? “Hustlers, strivers, dealers, call girls and other lives” – the lives of the subtitled. All can be found inside, but as the book progresses it becomes clear that one of the most important “other lives” is Venkatesh himself.

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